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US Food Subsidies Fuel Obesity and Declining Health

CardioSmart News

U.S. policies may be to blame for America’s declining health, according to a recent study that links consumption of subsidized foods like meat, cheese and corn to increased risk for obesity and heart disease.

Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, this study looked at the impact of U.S. agricultural subsidies on cardiovascular health. Agricultural subsidies are government policies that pay farmers to help ensure a stable and affordable food supply for the rest of the country. The problem is that commodities financed by these policies are not exactly aligned with U.S. dietary guidelines.

Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasizes consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy while limiting consumption of saturated fats, sugars, salts and refined grains. However, U.S. subsidies focus on financing the production of foods like corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, dairy and livestock. These commodities are mostly converted into high-fat meat and dairy products, refined grains, sugary drinks and processed foods—none of which make up a healthy diet.

To see how this inconsistency impacts U.S. health, researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which combines interviews and physical exams to assess the health and nutritional status of Americans. The analysis included more than 10,300 U.S. adults who participated in the study between 2001 and 2006.

What researchers found was that more than half of all calories consumed by U.S. adults came from the major subsidized food commodities like meat, cheese and corn. The more Americans consumed of these commodities, the worse their health was.

U.S. adults with the highest consumption of subsidized foods were 37% more likely to be obese, 41% more likely to have too much belly fat, 21% more likely to have unhealthy blood sugar levels and 14% more likely to have elevated cholesterol levels. As authors explain, all of these factors lead to increased risk for heart disease—the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States.

According to experts, findings illustrate how the U.S. finances foods that promote obesity and poor health. So rather than putting our money into foods that make us sick, experts argue that we finance more wholesome foods to improve the average American diet. For example, many argue that we need to help farmers raise cheaper fruits and vegetables rather than beef, dairy and other products. As with most things, it’s likely easier said than done. But authors hope their recent findings raise awareness for this issue and promote policy changes to improve America’s health

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